Historic courthouse turned boutique hotel, The Darling opens rooms, restaurant, rooftop for reservations as of July 1
VISALIA – “Hello, and welcome to The Darling.”
Those words were finally uttered to the public today, July 1, the first official day The Darling Hotel was open to overnight guests. The former Tulare County Courthouse at the Corner of Court and Center in Visalia is once again a centerpiece of the downtown and a focal point for the community embracing its past while casting a mold for its future.
Melissa Lopez, sales and events manager for The Darling, said opening a hotel during a pandemic has been a unique challenge but also a satisfying one watching the transformation of a shuttered building into a shining beacon.
“There is nothing like this in the Central Valley,” Lopez said. “We get as many as 10 inquiries per day about the rooftop bar, which I think is the only one in the South Valley.”
Lopez said staff at the boutique hotel is almost as excited as the public, which have been calling non stop to inquire when they book a room, reserve a spot in the lounge or just walk through and take in the view. As of press time, only seven of the hotel’s 32 rooms remained available for tonight, July 1, the first official open date for The Darling. And if you want that tour, you will have to have a room, restaurant or rooftop reservation to get inside in order to maintain social distancing for guests and staff.
“Staying here is like being a part of history,” Lopez said. “They have put a lot of thought into the details and gone the extra mile to keep as much of the original structure as possible.”
Signs of the building’s rich history echo throughout its walls. The first floor vault has been converted to a wine cellar. Original 1930s doors and antique light fixtures have been restored and rehung. All the way to the fourth floor, where one of the executive suites retains the wood paneling from the original chambers from the buildings time as a venerable courthouse and Board of Supervisors chambers.
“Ninety percent of all of the work was done by Tulare County companies and craftsman with the other 10% primarily coming from Fresno and the rest of the Valley,” said Matt Ainley, lead developer on the project.
Historic photos and blueprints of the original courthouse square, courthouse and art-deco annex grace the walls of every floor as windows into the past. The classic black and white photos complement the more modern, mixed media pieces by COS art professor Matt Rangel, whose topographic drawings of the Sierra Nevadas and Kaweah watershed are brought to life with drawings of native species and hiking notes. Elements of the hotel’s art deco logo design can be found in the hallway doors, patterned carpet, windows and rooftop railing.
For Ainley, a highlight of the hotel is the rooftop restaurant and lounge. Named after the rural community north of Woodlake where his family still runs a cattle ranch, Elderwood is where the metropolitan feel of the hotel blends with the roots of the Valley. The restaurant will still play off the art deco theme of the building but also have a more industrial feel to it with exposed concrete and its location in the former mechanical pit of the hotel. The area once served home to the old boiler and chiller systems used to heat and cool the 1930s era hotel. Ainley said more than 180,000 pounds of metal was taken out of the rooftop housing to make room for the restaurant. In true workmen fashion, all of the wood in the lounge was repurposed from the project.
“It reminds me of my family,” Ainley said. “They are all educated people who can have great, intellectual conversations about anything but are the same people who are working hard and getting dirty every day at the ranch.”
Bar manager Bryan Muirhead said Elderwood is a combination of new American cuisine and classic, quality cocktails. From locally sourced food to proper glassware etiquette, Elderwood will be elegant but not elitist. Muirhead said he wants to bring back the art and science of mixology as well as providing delicious breakfast and brunch dishes such as free-range egg omelet and sugar-cured pork belly.
“Mixology is an American invention but at some point we got away from it,” Muirhead said. “We want to tell you about what we have created and have you drink it in with your eyes before you ever actually taste it.”
The four-story building was constructed in 1935 as an expansion of the original County Courthouse built in the 1880s. The 22,300 square foot modern structure is considered a gem of the Public Works Act of the New Deal with its “Art Deco façade and monument-like presence.” The building housed the County Board of Supervisors, Treasury, Auditor, Assessor and Purchasing departments until 1952 when it became the acting Courthouse after the original was damaged by an earthquake with an epicenter in Tehachapi.
When the current Courthouse was constructed in 1958, the building was used for a variety of purposes but has been vacant since 2008.
The hotel is owned by Courthouse Square Ventures, a limited liability company comprised of Matt, his brother Bob Ainley, as well as the Mouw, Robertson and Largoza families. For more information or updates on The Darling’s progress, visit TheDarlingVisalia.com.